Sometimes it is the simple things that have the most significant impact.
Take for example a recent article published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology - Time magazine had a nice succinct write up on the topic:
"…researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Copenhagen tried recruiting homeless men off the streets of Copenhagen to see whether they could get the men to play soccer and improve their health.
Fifty-five men enrolled in the study and were randomized either to receive soccer training two or three times a week or to serve as a control group. After 12 weeks, the group who regularly played soccer reduced their body fat and lowered their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, compared with the control group. The soccer players also improved other markers of cardiovascular health, which the authors suggested may help reduce their risk of early death.
The study found high attendance among the homeless men, suggesting that organized soccer games could have some potential to improve health outcomes in the homeless or in other underserved populations.”
Soccer, yes soccer began to make a difference in these fifty-five lives. Sometimes health can be so simple. Yes, these folks began moving around more and playing soccer thus improving their health, but is there something else at work here?
I think so, and I think it is a word we often take for granted in health.
Think of all the various ways we use the word community healthcare.
Probably the most common use is when we discuss “community health centers" but what do we mean by community in this context? According to the National Association for Community Health Centers:
"Each health center takes a unique approach to meet the needs of the people in the surrounding community. That local approach to health care, combined with an innovative emphasis on comprehensive preventative care, generates $24 billion in annual savings to the health care system – to taxpayers and private payers alike."
People want to have a sense of belonging. They want to have a sense of being apart of something bigger than them. Community does this. Community single-handedly accomplishes connection, and can be defined in multiple ways.
At the heart of much of the social media movement, there is a sense of engagement and community. Twitter, Facebook, Linked In - they all build off of the idea that people need connection and have a voice. Community.
In primary care, the largest platform of healthcare delivery in the country, continuity is one of the “secret ingredients” for success (and improved health outcomes). At the heart of continuity is a relationship. This relationship may lead the patient to feeling an enhanced sense of a community with their healthcare provider.
This is also the basis for the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) -consider one of the PCMH “joint principles”:
“Care is coordinated and/or integrated across all elements of the complex health care system (e.g., subspecialty care, hospitals, home health agencies, nursing homes) and the patient’s community (e.g., family, public and private community-based services). Care is facilitated by registries, information technology, health information exchange and other means to assure that patients get the indicated care when and where they need and want it in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.”
Primary care aims to bridge across all elements of healthcare, including the community. In the process, does primary care become its own community for patients. Is it already?
My point with this post is that if we forget about the most simple thing in healthcare, community, we begin to miss the boat entirely for improving people’s lives. How we define community is often unique to us as individuals; however, our health may be more connected to our definition of community than we are willing to admit.